While blockchain operators struggle to open bank accounts in Malta, Estonia and Switzerland are forging ahead and attracting business, the organiser of the Malta Blockchain Summit has warned.

“The hype about Malta as the Blockchain Island peaked during the Malta Blockchain Summit last autumn, but while the Virtual Financial Asset agents have since then been approved by the Malta Financial Services Authority, operators are getting impatient about the lack of banks willing to open accounts for them,” Eman Pulis warned.

“Banks are very concerned that doing so might spook their correspondent banking relationships – and if these were pulled, then Malta would lose its ability to work in the US banking system. It is a major issue so I cannot say that I blame them,” he said.

He pleaded for all the stakeholders to remain aligned, saying that much could be achieved if everyone worked together.

In spite of the competition and delays, he still sees considerable potential in the blockchain/artificial intelligence sphere, saying it would complement what has already been achieved in the gaming sector.

“Blockchain and AI will be the future for gaming and its regulation puts the Malta Gaming Authority way ahead of the competition,” he confirmed.

A task force is currently looking at incentives to attract artificial intelligence companies to the island, while the University of Malta is already offering a Master’s degree relating to the field.

“Estonia and Zug in Switzerland have different barriers to entry: Malta attracted the bigger players like Binance, but is not as interesting for start-ups, which might deter the next unicorn,” he pondered.

Operators are getting impatient about the lack of banks willing to open accounts for them

Apart from the task force, there are other initiatives under way. A fourth piece of legislation is in the pipeline which would look into the tricky concept of ensuring consumer protection from so-called ‘Decentralised Autonomous Organisations’, which can run without human intervention.

“The government wants to find ways to prevent criminal abuse of DAOs, while the MFSA is looking at ways to protect the end user and ensure that consumers can make claims to protect their rights,” he explained.

Mr Pulis is in touch with many of the major players in this industry: the Sigma conference in November will attract 15,000 delegates and his company, Gaming Hub, now employs 40 people to handle the complex requirements of this and other summits: the blockchain and artificial intelligence summit at the Hilton on May 23-24 will attract some 4,000 delegates.

The gaming sector is now maturing – with the Nordic markets particularly well established. However, there is still scope for new markets, with companies transferring here from Gibraltar because of Brexit being only one development.

Mr Pulis said that at one point, there was considerable interest in the Asian market but that the appetite for this region had cooled, replaced by interest in Latin America and North America. Recent court decisions have opened up the latter market, allowing each state to determine whether to allow online sports betting.

“Until now, gaming in the US remained focused on land-based casinos while Europe was increasingly online, so this sector has a real advantage as it is already a robust platform,” he stressed, saying that allowing people to pay in cryptocurrencies could be the next frontier.

Indeed he is clearly enthusiastic about the evolution of gaming into the blockchain and artificial intelligence spheres – with banks being the ones which have most to lose.

Apart from Fintech payment options, which are being increasingly regulated by the MFSA, he warns that operators could bypass banks completely and rely on EU ones to service their needs.